[Edu-sig] Acadmic gender gap (was Thoughts)

John Zelle john.zelle at wartburg.edu
Mon Dec 6 20:12:08 CET 2004

OK, I lost one message, and then this one was bounced as Spam. I'm 
trying to post this one last time with a clean subject heading.


I had a long, detailed reply to this post that got "eaten" by the dog 
that is our email system. This is a shorter note, as Douglas has already 
posted some ideas that touched on mine regarding women in computer science.

The dominance of girls/women in academics now is well-attested. At the 
undergraduate level we struggle to get high-quality male students, and 
our Dean's list is about 2/3 women. However, I personally doubt that 
this has very much to do with any pro-girl agenda in our schools. As far 
as I can tell (my first child is in first grade now), public education 
has not changed a whole lot since I went through. And the article points 
out that what changes have been made are a reflection of new economic 
realities, not any political agenda.

What I think has changed significantly is what our children are doing 
outside of school. They are watching television, surfing the Internet, 
and playing video games. There is a growing list of credible scientific 
research showing that computers and video games for young children are 
actually detrimental to developing creativity, problem solving skills, 
concentration (on non-computer tasks) and social skills. There are also 
some preliminary studies showing a link between electronic media 
exposure and the epidemic of ADHD diagnoses with its concommitant 
drugging of our children to "improve their concentration." The time 
spent huddled with a video game is time not spent out experiencing the 
real world in all it's richness. It's time not spent in meaningful 
social interation with peers. Although I love computers, I am in no 
hurry to expose my youngsters to the virtual world.

What has this got to do with an academic gender gap? Well, it's 
primarily boys that are playing video games and messing around on 
computers. I just saw an article in Newsweek or Time (can't remember 
which) that documented how traditional toy manufacturers are getting 
crushed by the gameboy, xbox, Playstation, and computer-game 
competition. Boys are starting down this road already in the 3-6 age 
group. Girls are increasingly affected, but still play with more 
traditional toys up until age 10 or so.

It could just be that the reason boys are not succeeding at the same 
rate has nothing to do with education per se, but with the increasing 
number who are simply ill-equipped for school. My hunch is that a 
well-behaved, non-video-gaming boy does just as well in the supposed 
"new curriculum" as his female counterpart. Some study needs to be done 
on this.

Given that fewer boys are succeeding, we darn well better figure out 
ways to attract talented girls/women to the IT field, or we will be in 
sorry shape. And heaven help us when the marketers finally find the 
killer electronic game for young girls; that will equalize the playing 
field in the worst possible way.

Those are a few of my thoughts...


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